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Belarussian Leader Sees Hard Times

President Alexander Lukashenko warned Belarussians on Friday that they would have to tighten their belts over the next few years in the wake of price rises for Russian energy.

"The new economic conditions that our country has found itself in makes higher demands on all of us," Lukashenko said. "The next three or four years will not be an easy time."

Lukashenko has relied heavily on cheap Russian natural gas and oil to fuel his country's largely Soviet-style, centrally controlled economy and maintain popularity. He grudgingly agreed to pay more than twice the previous price for gas this year -- and even more in coming years -- in a bitter price dispute in December.

The outcome of a subsequent dispute over oil supplies and transit fees will reduce the profits Belarus makes by refining Russian oil and selling the products.

"Nobody will give us cheap oil and gas, not even the closest countries, our allies," Lukashenko said, referring to Russia more warmly than he did during the disputes. "But this does not mean that the country's leadership will stop fighting for less expensive resources.

He said Belarus would push ahead with a five-year plan to modernize factories and make the economy more efficient, and would stick to targets of 9 percent growth in gross domestic product, and inflation no higher than 8 percent this year. "In no case will we slow down the tempo," he said.


(The Moscow Times 22.i.07)

 
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